Anis Haffar shares great insights into the history of the great school, its bold, strategic vision and coming events.
In 2006, researching and writing the “130 Years of Mfantsipim” for the anniversary, I came away so inspired by the faith and tenacity of the lustrous souls that led the quest to keep alive the genius of Mfantsipim. In its infant years, the School nursed periodic convulsions. In severe cases, the School was shut down completely from lack of money, enrolment, headmasters, teachers, and housing. The founders (including The Faithful Eight) responding to the cries from the cradle, offered their bare, lean shoulders for the School to lean and cry on. Their spirits thrive indelibly in our minds and hearts.
Today, all Mfantsipimfo, blessed to keep the flame burning, are eternally grateful foremost to John Mensah Sarbah and his father John Sarbah, J.E. Casely Hayford, J.P. Brown, George Kuntu Blankson, Jacob W. Sey, Kobina Sekyi, W.E. Pieterson, William E. Sam., F.C. Grant and grandson Rev (Sofo) F.C.F. Grant, Rev A.W. Parker, Rev R.M. Acquaah and his son Rev Gaddiel Acquaah, the deGraft Johnsons, and the “eminent gang of ‘Who’s who’ that fill the School’s armoury of biographical sketches”.
Some had little in terms of material riches; but, they gave from the gut to make Mfantsipim great. That was the wonder of it: That Mfantsipim survived to become the intellectual capital of Gold Coast nationalism; and, particularly, to excel and spread exemplary education in the country.
[Superior education in West Africa was heralded by earlier Pan-Africanists: Alexander Crummell (1819 – 1898), Africanus Horton (1835 – 1883), Edward W. Blyden (1832 – 1912), and W.E.B. Du Bois (1868 – 1963). King Ghartey of Winneba (1820 – 1897), mentoring the Fanti Confederacy (1871) and the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society (1897), added his voice for growing Gold Coast people through “a sound national education policy”.
In promoting the “Africana Encyclopedia” in 1907, Du Bois entrusted by inviting Blyden (Sierra Leone) and Casely Hayford (Gold Coast) among the likes of the Spanish literary genius George Santayana and Harvard University’s President George Eliot. The Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah’s phenomenal loyalty to education and unrivalled concern for Ghana’s youth (1950s and 1960s) were sourced from the sparks and focus of these earlier mavericks].
Without the giants of old, how could Ghana have nurtured the indomitable educator Francis L. Bartels, the literary Joe de Graft Johnson, U.N. General Assembly President Alex Quaison Sackey, the political doyen Joe Appiah, Prime Minister K.A. Busia, KNUST Vice-Chancellor R.P. Baffour, Fijai School’s J. Kwesi Lamptey, principal administrator Casely Mate, University of Ghana’s emeritus professors Rev Dr Kwesi Dickson and Dr A. Adu Boahen, U.N.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ECOWAS’ Mohammed Ibn Chambas; and, of course, the legendary old girls – Dr (Mrs) Mary Grant, Mrs Mary Chinery Hesse, Dr Sylvia Boye, Dr Dolphyne, and others?
Today, however, to persist in merely saying we are grateful deflates essence like a fleeting intimacy. Mfantsipim was slated to stretch beyond our personal years. Even in the best of times, the struggle to go the distance was daunting. And these are not the best of times!
The old troubles (euphemistically called challenges, nowadays) are haunting still, as thorny as ever. We brood on board some of the very same seas of troubles faced in the 1870s by our pioneering teenage headmaster, Rev James Picot; the same faced by our righteous headmaster Rev W.T. Balmer in the 1900s; and by our fighting Irish headmaster Rev R.A. Lockhart in the 1920s. In short, our brand new headmaster, Mr Kwame Egya of Moba 72 (inaugurated by no less a disciple than a product of our protégé, Prempeh College – Kumasi, Rev Dr Aboagye Mensah) will need continuous support. There’s a pattern emerging here: It’s “aluta” all over again.
Today, happily, the School lacks neither headmasters nor enrolment. Those hurdles were cleared eons ago. The challenges come from the scarcity of facilities without which the dreams of our forebears would stall. The School cannot be abandoned to sink or swim.
In the 1960s, there were only about 600 of us enrolled as students. We fit snugly in the dormitories, the dining and assembly halls, the common room, the field, even in the “ablu” areas. Today, our student population exceeded 1,400; bigger than twice the earlier figure, but cramped in the old facilities. It’s clear that the rising youth and their teachers need support. If we have been recognized to come forward, it is for this common duty: to rise to the occasion.
Mfantsipim’s history – of humility, of down-to-earthness, of cautious optimism, of perseverance – is repeating itself. The troubles of congestion had been looming stealthily with each extra pupil admitted; now they have imploded into an ugly glare. Luckily, unlike the scanty old days, the beneficiaries of the enviable Mfantsipim education are ever teeming, hence our strength in numbers.
The convergence of Mfantsipimfo at the Accra National Theatre – at 5:30 pm, Thursday 8th May, 2008 – was inspiring. The organizers – Ebusuapanyin Dr Francis Poku (Moba 55), Seniors Emmanuel Kwesie and Albert Kittoe (Moba 64), William Sam (Moba 66), Frank Tackie (Moba 67), Eugene Kwakyi (Moba 77), K.B. Coleman (Moba 76), Reginald Hansen-Thompson (Moba 72), Dr Ebow Bondzi-Simpson (Moba 72), and others – were beside themselves in amazement at the large turnout. The labour of love in the teamwork paid off handsomely.
Frank Tackie of The Consortium shared the vision and masterplan through a power point presentation. He introduced “The Mfantsipim Manifesto (A 10-Year Development Agenda) captioned “The Renaissance 1”. The vision rooted on three core principles: One, Academic excellence ahead of the pack; Two, Leadership qualities of discipline and visible Christian values; and Three, An unparalled environment built for a holistic second-cycle education.
The key strategies included a systematic rehabilitation of existing run-down buildings and infrastructure; a sustained routine maintenance; an expanded capacity to decongest facilities; a realignment of existing management structure, and so on.
The schedule of proposed projects included student and staff residences, ablutions / sanitation, dining hall, sports / leisure, library complex, water use, land use plan, etc. A key element in the strategies is, of course, Funding, and is classified under four categories: monthly remittances from “dedicated old boys”, year groups’ support, special fund-raising events, and the GET-Fund.
K.B. Coleman of Acctech – in a breezy tenor fit for a Methodist chorister – presented the synopsis of the new Constitution. It entailed membership, subscriptions, executive committee membership, endowment fund, accounts and audits.
We were proud of EcoBank and Mr Johnson Oware (Fijai old boy) for the corporate sponsorship, and for Dr Andrew Arkutu (Moba 55) for introducing the F.L. Bartels Education Foundation.
It was a joyful homecoming with alumni like former headmaster Mr H.V. Acquaye-Baddoo; Mrs Chinery-Hesse from the President’s office; Akiwumi Thompson (Moba 56); Dr Joe Abbey (Moba 57), the gentlemanly K.K. Donkor (Moba 63); “Slim” Boakye and Acquaah Harrison (Moba 64); ace architect Ernest Banning (“Boston” of Moba 66); the suave Charles Addy (Moba 67) of Oak Financial Services; Dr David Ofori-Adjei (Moba 67) of University of Ghana Medical School; Brigadier R.O. Sackey (of Moba 68); B.A. Appenteng (Moba 68), former M.D., Daily Graphic; K.K. Adarkwa (“Shapeero” of Moba 69), Professor and Vice-Chancellor – KNUST; the resilient Nana Butler (Moba 69); Sam Bannerman-Mensah (Moba 70) of Ghana Education Service; and a host of others. [With media wiz Gaddy “Hayes” Laryea (Moba 70) joining the planning team, we feel blessed.]
Observing the proceedings, and listening to the presenters’ call for action, was a moving, historic affair. I recalled vividly what F.L. Bartels said of Mensah Sarbah and Rev Balmer: “Sarbah with others before him has the credit for the vision; Balmer made the vision a reality. [The] visionary and the man of action left behind them a School with great possibilities.”
So was history re-lived. So were the twins – leadership and responsibility – thrust, not only on the presenters and the organizers who toiled diligently for that memorable day, but on the greater Mfantsipimfo who heeded the call, and availed their noble presence. Having been cast admirably on the stage, we were to play the parts.
At the end of it all, it was about Mfantsipim: our humble beginnings; our unyielding purpose; our collective faith; our common heritage. The roots of the Mfantsipim family tree are deep. We could not pretend for a moment that, somehow, the branches of this great School were not us: They are ours in need, in deed, and in spirit; and ever to bloom with the alumni gallantly in the saddle, heeding the call. The buck stops with us!
I arrived early at the National Theatre that day. It was insightful watching, from the reception area, the old boys tackling the stairs, trickling in, one by one. Bonded by a neural network of sentiments, they embraced one another with nicknames. Before long the trickle had turned into a stream.
By the time the program began, the area was flooded from one end to the other. The numbers didn’t seem a simple matter of conscious individual choices, but one of a mass gravitational pull. As was said of the African fathered Barack Obama, a most likely U.S. President come November 2008, he did not find the time; it was rather the time that found him. The time to heed a great call! Amen!
The singing of the first stanza of the School hymn “For all the saints who from their labours rest” echoed the unforgettable, soulful sounds of our brotherly youth. Basses, tenors, sopranos, “abokyi” parts – all sprang up from every corner, pitched in, and blared with passion. It caused shivers. The “freppers” truly missed most amiable moments.
[A major convention dubbed “The Great Mfantsipim Renaissance” is planned for Wednesday July 2nd, 2008, same time, same place, to build on the momentum for the School’s continued success. We need everyone, especially the year groups, friends, and corporate representations, for a massive fund raising harvest to support the dear School.]
The amiable MC, Mr Wakefield Akuaku, started the roll call from April 3, 1876, the day the School first opened its doors in Cape Coast. He continued calling the years within the spaces of the First World War (the 1910s) to the end of the Second World War (the 1940s), and thereafter. The first hand was raised, finally, amid cheers, for Moba 1951. Other hands followed duly with enthusiasm. [An uproar greeted Moba 66, perhaps 1966 being the year of Ghana’s first coup d’etat, the one that toppled Ghana’s founder, the Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. That the demise of the great African should have befallen that year!]. The presence of the youthful 2000 year “greenhorn” groups was refreshing.
“Biibi wo wim!” The occasion presented itself for a spiritual pause; to ponder our genesis; to pay homage, and celebrate the lives of Rev Thomas Birch Freeman (the father of Methodism in Ghana), Rev A.T.R. Barthrop, Rev James Picot and his mentor brother Rev T.R. Picot, John Mensah Sarbah, J.E. Casely Hayford, F. Egyir Asaam, Rev W.T. Balmer, Rev A.A. Sneath, Rev R.P. Dryer, Rev R.A. Lockhart and his dear wife – the veritable “Florence Nightingale”, Rev W.G.M. Brandful, J.W. Abruquah, O.K. Monney, and others. If only they could see us now! Bold souls on whose torsos the pillars of our humble beginnings were erected.
[Anis Haffar is the founder of GATE Institute (Gifted And Talented Education), a Teacher Education Institute for upgrading Schools and Teachers with English Language skills, Learner Centred Methodologies, and Teaching Materials. Email: email@example.com]